How One Children’s Hospital Used Social Media to Deal with the Unthinkable


Last Friday, February 17, highly-respected Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon, called a news conference to address the unthinkable.

A male nurse in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit had been charged with downloading and distributing child pornography.

Doernbecher did all the right things. They issued a news release, held a news conference, posted Frequently Asked Questions regarding the case on their website, set up a telephone hotline for anyone who had questions and mailed 10,000 letters to families whose children had been treated at the hospital during the time the nurse was employed.

Holding their breath

You can imagine how they held their breath as they posted the news on their Facebook page and tweeted information on their Twitter account.

Here is the Facebook post announcing the arrest of the nurse.

Within minutes, “likers” had begun commenting. Doernbecher responded quickly, using formal, scripted language in early comments and referring questions to their FAQ page.

No firestorm on Facebook

There has been no firestorm on Facebook. In all, 38 people have responded to the Facebook post since Friday, and they have largely been supportive of Doernbecher. In fact, although a few people commenting expressed frustration or discomfort, I would not consider any of the comments negative.

A typical comment said, “Thank you Doernbecher’s for handling this so openly and honestly. We just got the letter and are pretty sure he was our son’s PICU nurse on at least one occasion. It’s absolutely sickening and so, so scary.”

Initial scripted responses fall flat

I think Doernbecher missed a chance early on to express concern and empathize with families. Their scripted responses to comments fell flat for me. I understand that legal would have carefully crafted the initial comments to avoid additional problems.

But a couple of days later, when an effected parent posted a comment about how difficult it was to receive the letter, which referred to her deceased child, the hospital responded with compassion, offered to share her concerns with others within the organization and identified the Facebook writer.

“Thank you for your honest feedback,” she wrote. “This understandably must have been a hard letter to receive for many reasons; the last thing we’d wish to do is make that experience any more difficult. I’m deeply sorry that our words may have caused you additional pain (or, as you say, grumpiness). – Brycie”

Very nicely done.

Weak Twitter strategy

On Twitter, Doernbecher repeated two tweets on their @OHSUDoernbecher account several times over 24 hours.


According to TweetReach, these posts were potentially viewed by 7,532 people.

Missed opportunity

But the hospital missed a chance to engage patients in the broader Twitter world. Media tweeted the story referring to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and those tweets were retweeted. TweetReach reports that 47,059 people potentially viewed those tweets – and Doernbecher didn’t reply to any of them.

Whether they were unaware of the posts – which would have been an oversight on their part — or chose not to engage, I don’t know. But they missed an opportunity to clarify, educate and show compassion to a larger Twitter audience.

Key lessons

First of all, hospitals need to have an active listening program that allows them to monitor conversations going on beyond their own platforms. Doernbecher could have created even more positive impressions had they responded to those Tweets.

Secondly, bad news doesn’t need to result in negative responses. At Hive Strategies we talk a lot about the importance and value of trusting your community. On Facebook, Doernbecher acted candidly and openly, letting the conversation flow and responding appropriately. This was a scary, risky step, but they were rewarded when their community reacted with support and encouragement.

How we help

Hive Strategies helps health systems create HIPAA-compliant online communities for better health, lower costs and greater loyalty.

4 replies
  1. Brycie Jones
    Brycie Jones says:

    Thank you Dan, for your perspective on our initial response to this upsetting and troubling issue.

    We are deeply touched by the support shown by the patients and families participating in our social media communities over the last few days.

    Our first priority is the patients and families who may have come in contact with Mr. Corbitt, and our social media efforts have focused on the most effective ways to help them get the information they need and address their concerns. Virtually all of the comments and concerns from that group have occurred on OHSU’s Facebook sites.

    The other news stories circulating on Twitter have supported that priority as well. Our Q&A site is currently the top URL associated with tweets about this story, with nearly 35,000 impressions, many of which originated from tweets through our @OHSUNews and @OHSUHealthcare accounts. The past two days we began to see some questions and misinformation about the issue on Twitter, and we have been directly engaging with those users and pointing traffic to our newly updated Q&A.

    Thanks for your thoughts about how we can continue to keep our patients and families informed during this crisis—and remain engaged members of a vibrant online community after it.

    Brycie Jones
    Social Media Manager, Oregon Health & Science University

    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      Thank you, Brycie, for the additional insight into what OHSU and Doernbecher are doing to connect with your social media communities. Clearly you have done a good job directing people to your FAQ page, which is a great source of information. I’m glad to hear you have been monitoring and responding to Tweets as you’ve discovered questions and misinformation — a solid strategy that I’m sure is helping. It has been gratifying to see how grateful your patients and their families have been for your open, direct communication. It’s a good example for all of us.

  2. Jason Boies
    Jason Boies says:

    Excellent analysis of a tough situation here, Dan.
    Spot on noting the lack of Twitter engagement with discussions happening off the hospitals own official channels. I’m biased of course, but it’s times like this where a strong social media listening strategy comes into play. Overall, however, I think Doernbecher handled the situation fairly well. What an awful thing to have to deal with, both for the hospital staff and parents.

    Jason Boies – Radian6 Community

    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      Thanks for the insights, Jason. Listening can be confusing for many people. It seems like the free services are limited and the for-fee services are spendy — and sometimes overwhelming. But finding the right solution can be one of the most important keys to successful social media.


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